Four astrophysics mission proposals to study stars, galaxies and some of the most violent explosions in the universe have been selected for further study by NASA.
The selected missions are competing for funding under NASA’s Explorers program and were announced by the agency on Thursday, August 18. The Explorers program focuses on small to medium-sized missions that can have significant scientific impact but can also be built and launched in a much shorter time frame than large, expensive missions.
Two Astrophysics Medium Explorer missions and two Opportunity Explorer missions will now move into the Mission Concept Study phase. NASA will evaluate the concepts before selecting a mission of opportunity and an average explorer in 2024. The chosen pair of missions will then prepare for launches in 2027 and 2028.
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The two Medium Explorer teams will each receive $3 million for a nine-month mission concept study. These are:
— UltraViolet EXplorer (UVEX). The mission would survey the entire sky in ultraviolet light to provide new insights into galaxy evolution and the life cycle of stars. The spacecraft would seek to catch the light of the explosion which follows a burst of gravitational waves caused by fusion neutron stars, as well as studying massive stars and stellar explosions. The lead researcher is Fiona Harrison of Caltech in Pasadena, California.
— Survey and Time-domain Astrophysical Research Explorer (STAR-X). The spacecraft would use sensitive wide-field X-ray and ultraviolet telescopes to study supernova explosions and active galaxies. Deep X-ray surveys would map hot gases trapped in distant galaxy clusters. Combined with infrared observations from NASA’s upcoming Roman Space Telescope, these observations would trace how massive clusters of galaxies have built up over cosmic history. The principal investigator is William Zhang of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland.
The two Mission of Opportunity teams will each receive $750,000 to conduct their own nine-month concept study. These are:
— Moon Burst Energetics All-Sky Monitor (MoonBEAM). The spacecraft would operate in the so-called halo orbit between Earth and the moonmeaning it would be able to see almost all of the sky at all times, watching for high energy bursts gamma rays distant cosmic explosions. MoonBEAM would then quickly alert other telescopes so they could study the source. The principal investigator is Chiumun Michelle Hui of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
— A Large Area Flash Polarimeter (LEAP). LEAP would be mounted on the International Space Station to study gamma-ray bursts from energetic jets launched during the formation of black holes after the explosive death of a massive star, or during the merger of objects such as neutron stars, and black holes. The principal investigator is Mark McConnell of the University of New Hampshire at Durham.
Average explorer mission costs are capped at $300 million each, excluding launch cost. NASA Opportunity mission costs are capped at $80 million each.
“NASA’s Explorers program has a proud tradition of supporting innovative approaches to exceptional science, and these selections deliver on that same promise,” Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, said in a statement. communicated. statement (opens in a new tab).
“From the study of galaxy evolution to high-energy explosive events, these proposals are inspiring in their scope and creativity to explore the unknown in our universe.”
Explorers is NASA’s longest-running program and aims to provide regular launch opportunities for space science missions. The first mission dates back to Explorer 1 in 1958, who discovered the from Allen radiation belts surrounding the Earth. More than 70 American scientific spaces and international cooperatives assignments were part of the program.
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